Everyone has the right to have an opinion. This much is understood. The disconnect comes after these opinions have already been shared. The right to have an opinion is supplemented by the right of everyone else to criticize those opinions. As I write this post, I am aware that anyone may criticize it the moment I choose to make it public. This is the risk I take as a writer. Being free to speak does not mean being free from repercussions after you speak.
The belief that every conversation must end amicably has become a widespread one. I am of the school of thought that approaching conversations calmly is one of the only ways to have a productive conversation. If a person has different beliefs, name calling and aggressive tones will not help change their minds. However, I am also of the school of thought that some people are not deserving of a calm or even respectful conversation. If that sentiment shocks you, allow me to explain why it shouldn’t.
Of course, there are legitimate instances of pure ignorance or lack of exposure which may result in someone saying or acting a certain way. If this is the case, then an attempt to show a person why their words or actions might be offensive/disrespectful would be, in my opinion, the best approach. In many cases, though, this attempt falls on deaf ears–the person defends their point of view. Again, everyone has the right to have (and defend) an opinion. However, when those opinions begin to infringe upon the right of someone to exist peaceably, it’s difficult to expect zero push-back.
A common defense of offensive/disrespectful opinions is that, well, it’s just an opinion. It is important to realize that this defense implies an innate irrelevance which comes with an opinion. This reasonably leads someone to ask why one would even state their opinion if it is believed to be inherently unimportant. The qualifier, “just,” devalues whatever the subject is that it is qualifying (e.g. just a kid, just a janitor, etc.). Unfortunately, opinions are more important than this defense makes them out to be.
Of course, by their very nature, opinions are not facts. The problem is that policy is influenced by opinion far more than it should be. It was the opinion that black people were less deserving of rights than white people (among other opinions) which led to slavery being justified. It was the opinion that Native Americans were savages which led to the establishment of boarding schools meant to strip them of their culture. It is the opinion that Mexicans are rapists and drug dealers, which led to the enforcement of dehumanizing immigration policies. History has seen its fair share of policies created because of widely held opinions. Rarely is it ever “just” an opinion because quite frankly, words mean things, regardless of whether or not those words are backed up by fact.
Generally speaking, you are responsible for the words you speak. However, when those words, those opinions, may contribute to the dehumanization of a people, it is near impossible to expect that conversation to end amicably. “It’s just an opinion” or “it’s just Facebook/Twitter” is not a justification for dangerous ideologies to be spread when we’ve seen entire wars caused by mere opinions and policy decisions made via Twitter. Words mean things and should be treated as if it were currency. Besides, the way one may feel as if they are being attacked for simply stating an opinion pales in comparison to the actual attacks a community may face when that offensive (read: dangerous) opinion is continuously propagated. Someone’s humanity is not something you can agree to disagree on.